Foundations for Community Climate Action: Defining Climate Change Vulnerability in Detroit

The Detroit Climate Action Collaborative (DCAC) partnered with University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning to assess climate change vulnerability in Detroit, Michigan - and the results are presented in this report. A Vulnerability Assessment is included which identifies places and populations in Detroit that are at risk from specific climate impacts, with a focus on extreme heat and flooding. An overlay of the socio-economic demographics was added to help prioritize the populations that may experience the greatest vulnerability. Based around the DCAC’s eight established work groups - potential climate indicators, adaptation strategies, and long-term goals are included for eight sectors including transportation, solid waste, homes and neighborhoods, businesses and institutions, community public health impacts, energy, research, and parks, public space and water infrastructure.

The vulnerability assessment provides a geographic overview of concentrations of vulnerability in Detroit. To assess extreme heat vulnerability, exposure factors included areas with high percentages of impervious surfaces relative to pervious surfaces and low tree coverage. Sensitivity factors considered included the number of people over the age of 65, the number of households without access to a vehicle, household income, and educational attainment.

The DCAC is comprised of community-based non-profits, environmental organizations, universities, state agencies, private organizations and the City of Detroit comprise the DCAC. The DCAC is a grassroots effort, led by Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice.

This vulnerability assessment is meant to be the first step in supporting DCAC members and community residents as they research and work with community members to prioritize strategies. As the conclusion states, "Climate change adaptation for Detroit will require collaboration among the city’s residents, organizations and institutions to effectively share knowledge, resources, and prioritize actions. The vulnerability assessment contained in this document serves as a starting point to begin a larger community conversation."


The heat assessment found that the greatest areas of vulnerability include Detroit’s downtown core, along with the adjacent neighborhoods northwest of downtown. In addition, only 29% of the population is within a 15-minute walking distance of designated cooling centers, which the City of Detroit designates on an annual basis.

The flooding vulnerability analysis has two components: sewersheds and households. Similar to the heat analysis, the results showed that the areas most vulnerable to sewer systems overload are those with the highest percent of impervious surface and the lowest percent of tree cover. Again, these areas are concentrated predominantly in the Downtown and Midtown areas of Detroit.

Following the assessment, a chapter is devoted to each of the DCAC Work Groups, and eight focal sectors (transportation, solid waste, homes and neighborhoods, businesses and institutions, community public health impacts, energy, research, and parks, public space and water infrastructure). These sections outline specific Detroit-related issues pertaining to each Work Group focal area; a list of possible guidance strategies and indicators; and a list of resources pertinent to each work group sector.

For each sector, the reports provides a Detroit centric perspective; short-term and long-term priorities; and a number of goals with strategies as well as specific actions and indicators for every goal. 


Publication Date: December 2012

Authors or Affiliated Users:

  • Kelly Gregg
  • Peter McGrath
  • Sarah Nowaczyk
  • Karen Spangler
  • Taylor Traub
  • Ben VanGessel

Related Organizations:


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Assessment
  • Indicators

States Affected:


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